When he moved to New Orleans, he was struck by the lack of many sorts of ethnic foods. In search of some good Indian food, for example, he made it a point to ask every Indian person he encountered where they went for their native cuisine. To a number, they all answered "at my house." So Bordainick saw an opportunity and invested $200 in his first pop-up dinner at a friend's vacant building. Despite requesting that the invite not be forwarded beyond his limited list of friends, the event sold out in three hours as people shared the info and showed up in droves.
Bordainick decided to emphasize up-and-coming chefs who worked as sous and line cooks in various New Orleans restaurants. To be able to pay a small staff to help put on the events, Dinnerlab came up with a membership structure where $100 per year allows access to the event calendar which is released every Wednesday. The size of the events is kept small to encourage interaction between the diners, and the cost of the dinners usually averages around $50 including food, drinks, tax and tip.
For the chefs involved, a Dinnerlab event can serve as an audition for their own space and provide valuable feedback for menu ideas. It is a lab, after all. Diners are asked to give feedback almost immediately after the event, and they have a very high response rate.
In the past year, the Dinnerlab concept has expanded to Austin and now to Nashville. The calendar is already crowded in New Orleans and Austin, with almost 80 events per year in each city. Individual chefs never cook more than a couple of times in each city per year to keep a healthy variety, but Bordainick does occasionally put together mini-tours between the Dinnerlab cities for chefs that like to travel.
The dinners are more like the original secret suppers where diners do not know the location until about 24 hours out, though they will find out before registering if the event will be more than a 15-minute drive from the city center, or whether they need to pack a jacket, like for a dinner held on a helipad.
Membership is required to make a reservation, but a guest may be brought along subject to availability. Bordainick notes that many singles sign up for the events specifically to meet like-minded foodanistas in a convivial atmosphere. Large common tables are the norm at Dinnerlab to encourage the interactivity of the dinner. On average, most members attend one event per quarter, so if you amortize that into an extra $25 per meal price, the membership fee seems pretty reasonable.
Dinnerlab plans to ramp up slowly in Nashville, with no more than four events per month to start out. Soft opening events are now accepting registrations on the Dinnerlab website, featuring chefs from the other two markets who will be cooking Central Thai and Puerto Rican food on July 18 and July 24, respectively. For better idea of what happens at the events and to see some past menus, go here. You can also search Instagram for the #Dinnerlab tag to see plenty of photos.
Bordainick is really excited about bringing Dinnerlab to Nashville. "People have a desire for different types of cuisine that isn't necessarily being met here. Bricks and mortar doesn't seem to have caught up with the demand, especially for ethnic food." There is a lot of talent in the kitchens of Nashville probably looking for a chance to step out in front of the line, at least for one night. New Orleans chef John Besh told Bordainick how he was surprised by the impact that Dinnerlab has made in his many restaurants. "People aren't coming in to meet me. They want to say hello to our line cooks!"
If this sounds interesting to you, head over to the official Dinnerlab Nashville page and check it out. If you make it to one of the launch dinners, be sure to tell us all about it here in the comments.